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The Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms (Not Those Kind)

Thrive Carolinas / Functional and Integrative Medicine  / The Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms (Not Those Kind)

The Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms (Not Those Kind)

Medicinal Mushrooms

Image Courtesy of Kikkoman

At Thrive, we are always trying to motivate our clients to get in the kitchen and cook. Cooking at home is the best way to control your diet and optimize the ingredients that enter your body.

As more nutritional data is released, there is clear support for the medicinal benefits of food. Nutritional studies support an Anti-Inflammatory Whole Food Plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, legumes and organic meats in small amounts. This diet is consistent with a Mediterranean diet but includes the foods of many other cultures for diversity and benefits. One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated is to introduce new foods and ingredients to keep your diet exciting.

Cooked Asian mushrooms are an excellent addition to this diet. They are packed with fiber, protein, B vitamins, Vitamin D, antioxidants, and many other beneficial compounds.

Adding Asian mushrooms into your diet is not just delicious; it appears that these fungi are gaining medical attention for their numerous health benefits. Recent studies have shown their role in the prevention and treatment of health problems ranging from viral illnesses, immune disorders, elevated cholesterol, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer.
Most Americans are familiar with the white button mushrooms which contain certain toxins which may be carcinogenic, especially when the mushrooms are eaten raw. This is true of the close relatives’ portobello and cremini mushrooms as well. It is unclear just how dangerous these toxins are, but generally, it is recommended that white mushrooms be prepared over high heat as it appears to break down much of the toxins.
It is the Asian mushrooms which appear to hold the most significant health benefits. The benefits are so appealing researcher pay them more attention. There is a growing body of research suggesting they have anti-cancer, antiviral, and anti-bacterial effects as well as significant anti-inflammatory properties.
All mushrooms contain beta-glucans. These substances are known to fight inflammation and aid the immune system. They improve immunity by increasing the numbers of T cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells – all-important immune system components. Shiitake mushrooms contain a polysaccharide known as lentinan, which has been shown to aid in cancer detection and prevention. This substance is recognized as an immunopotentiator – a role which supports the immune system in fighting disease. In a 2014 study in the Journal of American College of Nutrition, a study looking at 52 adults who consumed daily shiitake mushrooms (5-10 gm) showed increases in their immune fighting T cells and Natural Killer cells after only two weeks. The higher the consumption of the mushrooms (10 gm versus 5 gm), the higher the response.
Asian mushrooms contain ergothioneine, a sulfur compound known to have high antioxidant activity. This means they have the potential to neutralize free radicals known to cause damage to cells and DNA and the potential to lead to cancer. Studies have shown the beta-glucans, and linoleic acid found in Asian mushrooms inhibit the enzyme aromatase (the enzyme which produces estrogen) and are associated with protection against breast and hormone-related cancers.
These powerful fungi also provide enough levels of iron and potassium to prevent anemia and help with blood pressure. They also contain fiber which stabilizes blood sugar levels and insulin response.
With all the interest in mushrooms and their health-promoting benefits, you can find mushroom teas and coffees as well as elixirs and other potions. The best way to reap the benefits, however, is to eat them. Asian mushrooms are more readily available in grocery stores and Asian markets, and cooking them could not be simpler. They can be used in place of white mushrooms in recipes. They rarely require scrubbing and can be gently washed with a soft dry brush. Dried mushrooms can have a more intense flavor and still retain the nutritional benefits when soaked. You can soak for 30 minutes before use and then prepare as if fresh. We have included some recipes to help motivate you to get these health promoters on your plate.
Oven Steamed Sea Bass with Wild Mushrooms

  • 4 T unsalted, grass-fed butter or ghee, softened
  • 4 6 oz sea bass or halibut filets, skinless
  • Two garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • ½ lb shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 2 T sake
  • ½ lb oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced Salt and pepper to taste
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl combine garlic and butter. In a large skillet melt half of the garlic butter. Add the mushrooms and cook on high for about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Tear four sheets of parchment. Spoon mushroom mixture equally on each square. Top each with the filet. Spread remaining garlic butter on eat filet. Drizzle evenly with soy sauce and sake. Fold the parchment into packets and set them into a sturdy baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Transfer to plates and spoon mushrooms and juices over fish.

Creamy Wild Mushroom and Thyme Pasta Sauce

  • 1 T EVOO ¼ c dry sherry
  • Two shallots, minced
  • Four plum tomatoes, chopped
  • Two garlic cloves minced
  • 1 T fresh thyme
  • ¾ c vegetable broth salt and pepper
  • 1 lb of wild mushrooms mixture of shiitake, enoki, oyster, maitake, sliced in thin strips
  • ½ cup cashew cream (see recipe below)
  • Sauté garlic and shallots in oil until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook on high for 5-8 minutes. Add stock and sherry and mix well. Stir in tomatoes and thyme and simmer for 10 minutes. Reduce heat and add cashew cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and serve with pasta cooked al dente (slightly chewy).
    Look for pasta without refined white flour. Semolina, brown rice, and zucchini noodles are great options. Cooking al dente gives the pasta a lower glycemic index.

Cashew Cream

  • Soak 1 cup of cashews in water for 4 hours or overnight.
  • Drain. Add to a high-speed blender with ¾ cup filtered water.
  • Add water if needed to make a thinner consistency.

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Stephen Fogg

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